I believe Adrienne Rich’s poem “In Those Years” is a striking acknowledgement of the inherent politicalization of queer identity. It calls attention to the expectation that queer people have a responsibility outside of their own happiness, and that to focus on only finding themselves would be selfish.
Rich states that “people will say, we lost track / of the meaning of we, of you” and that “the whole thing became / silly, ironic, terrible: / we were trying to live a personal life”. I interpret this to mean that she believes there to have been judgement directed towards queer people just being queer for the sake of it being who they are. Although obviously queer people are just as entitled to the experience of self-discovery and contentedness as straight people, “people,” perhaps meaning society, find that to be unacceptable. She also uses the phrase “the great dark bird of history” when referring to those who dissent to the act of self-discovery. This mention of “history” is what makes me think there is a political tone to this poem.
When queer people are putting themselves out there in a way that can be commodified for the sake of progressiveness, it is perhaps more palatable to straight people. They can view queerness as an abstract political concept they can gain moral “points” for supporting. Sedgewick discusses the idea I am trying to get at in the chapter “Queer and Now” when she points out the popularity of her class with straight students.
On the other hand, when queer people engage in self-expression simply to be at peace with themselves, it is “silly, ironic, terrible,” otherwise translated to uncomfortable for society, which I believe to be the crux of this poem.
“Climb the broken stone stairs into the hills. / Climb them into the night’s throat.” (23)
This poem makes me think about the point of view of the speaker, one apparently from the point of view of a coyote. Likening the coyote cry to a lost woman evokes a sense of longing for company while maintaining the sense of fear induced by a coyote howl. Yet, I don’t find this coyote-speaker to be coming from a place of ill-intent.
Jones’ poetry in this collection balances a fine line between a sort of unity with the rest of the world and an incredible isolation from anything beyond the immediate self. (By immediate self I mean the self unencumbered by external social pressures—for Jones, these pressures often include his own family, unfamiliar lovers, or the heteronormative structures of society as a whole.) The lines “She needs you / like I need you” (23) sort of lead me to thinking about the hedgehog’s dilemma with a small caveat; rather than the hedgehog’s pricks keeping people from getting close, people’s own fear of the coyote prevent them from interacting with the coyote in the way that the coyote needs.
The effect of this point of view is that the poem is able to bring about a sense of identity with the feeling of being feared. These two lines (“Climb…”) in particular almost feel demanding from the speaker, pleading for the reader to face what unnerves them.
The poem “History, according to Boy” is a collection of poems that exposes the feeling of guilt, invisibility, physical and psychological violence that pervade the lives of LGBT people. The sections are episodes that remained ingrained in Saaed Jones’s mind during his teenage years.
Jones had a blue journal in which he would eternalise these moments through his writing. It wasn’t always easy for him to write these thoughts, though. In the essay “A Poet’s Boyhood at the Burning Crossroads”, Jones said “There was no one moment in which I was suddenly able to shatter silence into language (2).” He had never had space to talk about his sexuality with his family. Silence was the rule. The constant silencing made it difficult for Jones to process his own feelings and write about how he feels.
In the essay, we learn that Jones has starting writing about himself as a gay man when he came out to his close friends. In section 5, however, he was only 12. In “History, according to Boy”, Jones is the “Boy”. He talks about various micro-violences that had happened to him, but which are universal in the sense that they represent the silencing and hurt that LGBT people have to go through since they are kids. The micro-violences can be blatant (when D., a classmate, calls Jones a fag, for example) or very subtle. The one we see in section 5 is subtle, but has managed to remain in Jones’s mind.
Jones’s father dims his smile when seeing his son hopping after shooting precisely. This second-long action, so subtle, has survived in Jones’s mind through the years. The poet was very young and hadn’t come into terms with his sexuality, but this micro-violence instills in him the poison of self-shame and guilt.
“The dress is an oil slick. The dress / ruins everything. In a hotel room / by the water, I put it on when / he says, I want to watch you take it off. /” (Jones 29).
In the first few lines of “Drag”, I think the narrator implies how his family’s homophobia bleeds into his relationships. I think the dress symbolizes the speaker’s queerness and the confidence that he has gained in understanding his identity. However, simultaneously, “the dress ruins everything”, which may represent how the narrator’s self-worth is decaying. As the narrator distracts himself by looking out of the window, the poem captures the narrator’s split between embracing his “drag”, and being consumed by self-hatred, which is symbolized by the oil spill. Based on the other poems in this set, I think these lines comment on how queer people are made to feel that they are dark and dirty, like an oil spill.
The image of oil versus the water creates a binary, where oil symbolizes unhealthy self-esteem, and the narrator as a whole, and the water symbolizes purity, and what the narrator’s father hoped he would be. The symbol of water reoccurs in the poem with lines like, “the rain has owned us” (Jones 29), which I think comment on how the narrator still feels indebted to his father because of the abuse he suffered. In turn, this hatred is like an oil spill, ruining his relationships.
The title of this poem is also relevant. The narrator puts on the dress so he feels secure in his identity. However, even with the dress on, I think he still feels like a drag, a burden, an oil slick, like he’s ruining everything.
I think these lines are representative of Jones’ internalized homophobia and the remaining effects that still linger from his father’s abuse.
“Cold air / dries her muddy footprints to a path / of hard, open mouths. If she retraces her steps, / the footprints will eat her” (Jones, 23).
Coyote Cry narrates a man speaking to an unknown person by telling them the story of a woman running through hills. The unnamed woman cannot retrace her footsteps because doing so would obscure her story. Her feet would not fit into the original prints neatly, creating a shapeless and unidentifiable blob. She would lose her story—her footprints—by trying to come back the way she came. These lines seem to urge the reader away from retracing their own footsteps, either literally or metaphorically.
Along with her footsteps holding a story, nature is also holding her story. Eventually, the footsteps will wash away with the rest of the mud, debris, and grass of the hills. However, she will have forever impacted the story of the hills with her steps. The mud will build over differently if she walks back over her steps, changing the way the world keeps her story. Jones writes, a line later, “Ragged pines snatch her cries and keep them. / That’s why I cry” (23).
Perhaps Jones is saying that, much like her footsteps in the mud, her cries and steps will later impact the narrator. Despite the narrator never visiting these woods nor knowing if this woman exists outside their imagination, they know that the way nature holds stories will later come back to tell another story. Her cries influence his cries, and her steps may influence his as time goes on.
The poem itself is quite a disarrayed piece of work, yet it implies brilliant queer masculinity. The dress was essentially used as the main topic to portray the queerness of a man, yet it hides the qualities that synchronize with what of a woman – femininity. The dress – being the most repeated word in this poem: provides a general viewpoint of a woman and how a man usually treats the woman, but the implication here it’s the love of the man for the man in the dress; and that love is treated for the dress, which “ruined everything”. The final part of this poem hints at the confusion of a queer man in this position, he wanted to be loved by a man like how he loves his woman, but should he be himself, or be the woman for the man to love.
My thoughts on this poem I mostly regarding the identity topic, as it shows the confusion between masculinity and femininity – the dress, while masculinity is the person in the dress. “I don’t even know what I am” – what I am really trying to say here, according to this line is that I think these lines are a portrayal of the confused position of a queer man between masculinity and femininity, and ultimately identity. The matter of identity should have something to do with the title as well, since “Drag” definitely relates to the phrase “Drag Queen” – a male with exaggerated feministic features/decorations. In this context, this feature is the dress. The expression of confusion in the sense of gender identity throughout the poem and the femininity hinted in the dress was the brilliance that defined his current state: a man with a mix of unwitherable emotions.
In Saeed Jones Poem “Don’t let the Sun Shine on you” in his collection of poems Prelude to a Bruise there is a repetition of the phrases around the sun setting. One of the lines reads “Thank God it’s not dark…yet” (Jones 19). My surface level interpretation is that the sun is setting and it’s getting dark but the person who the story is about, which I assume to be Jones, a black man, is fearful of this. His fear is shown in the fact that he is thankful that it’s not dark yet. Jones reads a sign where the first part of it says, “N*GGIER DON’T LET THE SUN SET ON YOU” (Jones 19). These words make it more clear to me that Jones is afraid of what will happen when it gets dark. The words leave an impending sense of danger in the narrator since the sun has not set yet and the sign. In another poem “Jasper, 1998” Jones details an event where I’m sure that a pair of white men seem to have given him a ride and then beat him up. This poem and the other one mentioned seem to be alluding to the racism that Jones faced. The poem takes a second person view and continues to refer to “you” throughout the poem; this is similar to how the sign speaks in second person as well. It is speaking to the person reading it, specifically the black person reading it. So I think that with this Jones making the reader become him in that moment after reading the sign-that frightened black boy who is hopeful that he will get somewhere safe before sundown.
The passage I’m paying attention to is the two first stanzas of the poem Insomniac written by Saeed Jones. I have noticed several things, details that I found worth mentioning. The boy is said to have “wild legs” (1), maybe a representation of his “wild tastes” or way of being, which is not what this society or this mother of his consider “normative”.
Also I found interesting how it says that this boy “stole your eyes the day he was born” (1) instead of saying “stole your heart” because perhaps she is more focused on the superficiality and the appearances. Choosing that part of the body, the eyes, may be a way of portraying that superficiality, because at the end of the day, her mother could be more worried about how his boy looked like or behaved in front of others instead of being worried about his happiness.
Also, it has really grabbed my attention the second stanza. The “language that you’ve tried to keep from him” (1) could represent this same way of behaving or talking, employing his personality that she tried to keep away from him to let her know that she is a nightmare for him.
I truly think that the general concept of the whole poem is condensed in these first lines. As I see it, Jones seems to employ a very specific diction related to parenthood and especially bad parenting that is also recurrent in the rest of his book of poems. Even the title, Insomniac seems to refer to the insomniac a mother feels when she is worried about her son. Therefore, the relationship of this mother and her son is complicated and hurtful, maybe she suffers about who and how his son is.
I think this poem is about Jones suffocating in his own femininity and pressures to conform. Unable to speak, his words are words falling out like flowers– flowers die, flowers wilt. His words fall flat, they lose their meaning, he loses his ability to articulate himself. Flowers are associated with femininity– are his words are too feminine, too soft? Dresses are associated with femininity as well, and are a recurring theme in his poetry. They’re closing in, almost taunting. The closet is locked, he is trapped. It is filling up with petals, suffocating his in dresses, corsets, silks– his own femininity and pressure to conform is what is suffocating him. He fears a part of himself and feels compelled to apologize, vowing never to ask for mother again, h Are the dresses an empty version of a mother figure he lacks or longs for? He is reaching out, hands=touching, feeling for something that is not there. Mothers “emptied out,” is he reaching for something that does not exist? He is searching for some answer within dresses that are like corpses, they are empty, they are nothing, but they hold power. Is “mother” suffocating him? Is this punishment? He trys to say no but he is silenced by flowers. Flowers usually mean growth, life, spring, new beginnings. Here they suffocate him. Is there no life left? Something so filled with life, filled with new growth betray him, trap him. Metaphors that would typically be beautiful in poetry are menacing, dangerous, encrouching on him like a disease.
“Insomniac” is about Saeed Jones’ broken relationship with his inner child. The reason why I know the boy Jones describes is him is because his reference to ‘legs’ in the first stanza of this poem parallels the several references made about legs in his other poems about later life experiences. In “Insomniac” Jones describes the young boy (himself as a child) as “small with wild legs” (1). In “Cruel Body” about Jones’ experience with sexual assault, it says “Get up. Find your legs, leave” (35). There is a clear difference between the two characters, the young boy who cannot sit still and the older person who cannot leave.
The relationship between the two characters, the two versions of Jones, is described as an estranged relationship between child and parent, which supports the idea about Jones lamenting over his inner child. The newer version of Jones is described as the “mother of sorrows” who cries in the child’s bed and waits for him to answer her calls (1).
Even though the two people come from the same ‘family’ Jones says, “the only inheritance of worth [the inner child’s] in the village of your synapses” (1). This line suggests that the relationship between parent and son- Jones and his inner child- is not only sad but dysfunctional as well; the inheritance was not intended for the child but for Jones’ older self. I think this makes sense because children seem to have more self-worth in general until it gets robbed from them in life experiences.
It is not until the last stanza where Jones accepts fault for this relationship when it says “but — for now—he’s still your boy. Sweet little wreck. Check the room you’ve locked him in” (1). The reader stops focusing on how the boy was ‘trapped in his synapses’ but how he got trapped there to begin with.